7 Compelling Reasons to Make Pharmaceutical Websites Accessible

Why is digital accessibility so critical for pharmaceutical brands? The compliance experts at Allyable explore 7 indisputable reasons—from legal to financial to moral—to prioritize making websites and apps fully accessible for consumers who live with disabilities.

Since the late 1990s, the accessibility of websites and other digital assets for people with disabilities has been an important consideration. However, conformance to the international standards first introduced in 1999 by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)—which has since evolved to its current Version 2.1—has been slow for industries across the board.

Considering the nature and reach of healthcare-related organizations in general, and the pharmaceutical sector in particular, digital accessibility should already be a top priority in this industry. Yet many companies continue to avoid or delay their compliance efforts. In a previous article, Allyable presented its extensive review of 150 pharmaceutical websites that indicated only 4% of the tested pages conformed fully or partially to global accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.0 and 2.1), while 2% did not even meet minimum standards.

If your organization is among those falling short in this area, perhaps these seven reasons will help you present a case to your team about why they need to start prioritizing digital accessibility immediately:

  1. Accessibility equals safety. Pharmaceutical customers need unfettered access to critical information about prescriptions, vaccines, and other medications. In the United States, 61 million adults with disabilities represent 26% of the population, along with 54 million elderly (16.5% of the population), although these categories overlap. A significant number of these consumers rely on one or more prescription medications.A joint study in early 2021 by Kaiser Health News and WebAIM, a nonprofit organization, identified substantial accessibility barriers in 81 out of 94 COVID-19 vaccine websites operated by state and local governments around the U.S. Many blind or visually disabled consumers in at least seven states were unable to register for vaccinations online using screen reader technology, and others could not access vaccine information, provider directories, or appointment signups, in clear violation of Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.Both pharmacies, which dispense prescriptions, and manufacturers, which provide critical data about medications and vaccines, as well as government-run vaccination websites, should focus on this sizable target market when developing or redesigning their websites and apps, keeping accessibility at the forefront of all online materials. This will ensure that no one is denied health-supporting or life-saving information when they need it most.
  2. Inclusivity matters. Ensuring that all your online properties, as well as physical locations, are accessible to everyone shows that you care about each of your customers and employees, including those with some form of disability. Inclusivity is an important civil right, alongside racial and gender equality, to eliminate discrimination against those who have historically been overlooked or marginalized. Quite simply, making the investment to ensure that your digital assets are accessible is the right thing to do.
  3. Revenue opportunity: If the first two reasons aren’t convincing enough, let’s look at how inaccessibility can impact your organization’s bottom line. The 1.85 billion people living with disabilities represent a tremendous emerging market—larger than China—that cannot be ignored. Not only do they directly control $1.9 trillion in annual disposable income, but they collectively influence a total of $13 trillion each year, when family & friends are included. Together, this huge circle of influence comprises 2/3 of the global population!Given those astonishing numbers, how many potential customers might be left behind when those with disabilities are unable to access critical information, order your products, or schedule a consultation? And how much lost revenue would that represent? According to an August 2019 article in Business News Daily, 66% of Internet transactions initiated by people with vision impairments, who typically use screen reader software, end in abandonment when they are unable to perceive or use the online functions as intended. That figure does not even include millions of others with mobility, cognitive, or auditory disabilities who encounter a wide range of barriers on the Internet.Clearly, leaving out customers with disabilities means potentially leaving a lot of money on the table. While there may be an upfront investment, the results may make your organization even more profitable in the long run.
  4. It’s the law! Wherever your organization operates in the world, chances are high that the laws there require its websites to conform with WCAG standards. As of this writing, countries with enforceable digital accessibility regulations include the U.S. (with several federal statutes), Canada, Japan, Israel, the European Union, and Australia. In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to all places of public accommodation, which applies to both physical locations and, more recently, publicly available websites.While the governments themselves may not come after non-compliant companies directly, cases are being filed in increasing numbers by disabled individuals and their legal advocates. In fact, ADA Title III lawsuits in all areas of accessibility have averaged 11,000 each year from 2018-2020. In the area of digital accessibility specifically, lawsuits tripled from 2017 to 2018 and since then have risen by 75%; 2021 is projected to be a record-breaking year with more than 4,000 cases moving through the court system.
    The most common legal claims for WCAG violations in websites are empty or redundant links, missing alternate text for images, and missing labels and page titles.As an example, in 2016, Domino’s Pizza was sued by a visually impaired patron who could not order a custom pizza on their website and mobile app using screen reading software. Three years later, the Supreme Court denied Domino’s request to review and overturn a lower court decision. On June 23, 2021, the California Central District Court ruled that Domino’s had violated Title III of the ADA by not providing a website that was fully accessible and must bring it up to compliance with WCAG 2.0 standards, in addition to paying Robles $4,000 plus attorney’s fees.Other high-profile organizations recently beset by accessibility lawsuits include Netflix, Harvard University, Winn-Dixie, and Target Corporation. All of these cases demonstrate how the presence of an accessible website can save much time, effort, and expense (including legal fees, damages, steep fines, and PR/crisis management), along with brand reputation.
  5. Pharmaceutical brands are at risk. Although a vast majority of accessibility cases so far have been filed against online retailers and restaurant/hospitality chains, plaintiffs are now starting to target companies in the healthcare industry—which is likely to continue increasing over the next several years. With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging, more people in general are spending time online. That provides both consumers with disabilities and attorneys with increased opportunities to discover accessibility barriers, gather evidence, and file lawsuits.East coast law firm Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, P.C., reported in November 2020 that “There has been an upsurge of claims against entities leveling accusations that websites are inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Recently, the targets of these claims include pharmaceutical companies, and we are expecting more.”Over the past seven years, numerous healthcare companies have been targeted for accessibility lawsuits, including Tenet Healthcare (in a class action suit), WellPoint Health Networks (now called Anthem), HCA Holdings, an operator of 100+ hospitals, and CAC Florida.
    While some cases end up being dismissed, organizations being sued still face the expense of legal fees, damages, and fines already discussed in Section 4 above. Even more significantly for pharmaceutical and other healthcare companies, non-conformance to ADA/WCAG standards can lead to a loss of contracts, funding, and other support from local, state, and federal government agencies, in addition to losing customers and revenues due to a tarnished reputation.
  6. Widgets are not enough. The increasing prevalence of overlays, widgets, and browser plug-ins—often provided for free by accessibility technology companies like Allyable—means that more and more organizations are making inclusivity a priority. That’s the good news! Overlays on a website provide individual users with a limited menu of customizable options, allowing them to adjust text size, color contrast, audio volume, and several other controls, often remembering their settings from previous visits.Unfortunately, such surface measures only serve as a start, not a long-term solution on their own. Using widgets and overlays alone does not resolve the internal accessibility of the website itself, address screen reader compatibility, or adequately protect against lawsuits. That is why they should only be used as a first line of accessibility, in addition to meeting WCAG 2.0/2.1 standards within the source code—such as incorporating alt text, working links, labels, page titles, video captions, and more.Avoiding the expense and effort of full compliance now by relying on widgets may lead to even higher legal and remediation costs in the future.
  7. With Allyable, accessibility is fast, easy, and affordable! We created the Allyable360° Digital Accessibility Platform to give companies a simple, cost-effective, yet comprehensive way to make their websites and other online assets accessible for visitors with a range of disabilities, with minimal coding required.Our revolutionary, award-winning suite of advanced tools allows your technology team to find and remediate accessibility barriers in existing websites and develop new assets with accessibility in mind, through the use of AI crowdsourcing, image processing, and other high-tech solutions. Modules include:
    • AllyToolbar™ – Our version of a free browser plug-in (upgrade option available).
    • AllyAudit™ – Automatically scans, audits, and places WCAG compliance errors into critical, medium, and low-priority categories.
    • AllyFix™ – Continuous monitoring for automatic remediation and flagging of violations by no-code wizards, supported by a growing knowledge base.
    • AllyDev™ ­– Lets developers create assets with accessibility in mind and meet compliance guidelines in the design phase.

    While the full Allyable360 system is recommended for large pharmaceutical enterprises, some tools can be used as standalone products or combined with one other module to meet a range of budgets. Our customers include pharmaceutical brands of all sizes, in a variety of configurations and subscription levels. Allyable’s products are ISO 27001 certified and our processes comply with all global privacy regulations, including the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the U.S. Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the State of California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), keeping our clients’ valuable data 100% secure.

We hope this article has persuaded you that digital accessibility is no longer optional, but of urgent necessity. How can Allyable’s state-of-the-art solution help your pharmaceutical websites and online assets become accessible? Find out with a customized full website scan and walk-through from a member of our team. Schedule a free site review today!

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